The Women Who Paved the Way in Construction

The Women Who Paved the Way in Construction

28th March 2019

March is International Women’s History Month, celebrating the achievements of women throughout history.  Here at Safety Fabrications, we’ve often advocated for more women to work in our industry, which would bring to our sector a sorely needed balance.  Construction has traditionally been a male job and it’s one of the most difficult industries for women to break into and then work in.  Today we’re going to honour the female population by taking a retrospective look at some of the women who have led the way in construction.

Lady Anne Clifford (1590 – 1676) inherited her father’s barony, held the hereditary office of High Sheriff of Westmoreland and was a patron of literature.  She played an active role in building and design, restoring churches and improving and expanding many of the family estates across Northern England.

Lady Elizabeth Wilbraham (1632 – 1705) is claimed to be the first female architect (though her work was often attributed to men) and was responsible for the design of both Weston Hall in Staffordshire and Wotton House in Buckinghamshire.  She produced the first architectural diagrams known to be by a woman.

Sarah Guppy (1770 – 1852) was an English inventor born in Birmingham.  She patented several inventions, including a method of making safe piling for bridges.  Her patented design for suspension bridge foundations was used by Thomas Telford, and she was involved in the creation of the Great Western Railway as a friend of Isambard Kingdom Brunel.  It was Sarah Guppy who recommended planting willows and poplar along embankments to stabilise them.

Ethel Mary Charles (1871 – 1962) was the first female admitted to the Royal Institute of British Architects (RIBA) in 1898.  However, her admission was opposed by some members and she was unable to obtain commissions for large scale projects, and had to content herself with working mainly on housing projects, such as labourers’ cottages.

Alice Perry (1885 – 1969) was the first woman to achieve a degree in Engineering in 1906.  Although she succeeded her father after his death as county surveyor for Galway County Council on a temporary basis, she was unsuccessful in her bid for the permanent position.

Dame Caroline Haslett (1895 – 1957) was an English electrical engineer, electricity industry administrator and a champion of women’s rights, becoming a strong advocate for females in engineering and a champion of women’s rights.  As first secretary of the Women’s Engineering Society, she was the founder and editor of its journal, The Woman Engineer.

Irene Barclay (1894 – 1989) was the first woman in Britain to qualify as a Chartered Surveyor and best known for her pioneering housing and social surveys in the 1920s which resulted in improvements in housing conditions in the slums of London.

Elisabeth Scott (1898 – 1972) designed the Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford, the first significant building in Britain designed by a female architect. 

Ladies Bridge – aka Waterloo Bridge was recently discovered to have been constructed mainly by women during World War 2.  Photos of the work underway came to light in recent years, which confirmed the rumours associated with this bridge for nearly half a century.

Dame Zaha Hadid (1950 – 2015) was an Iraqi born, London based architect who won the 2004 Pritzker Architecture Prize, the Stirling Prize on two consecutive occasions and became the only woman ever to be awarded the Royal gold Medal from RIBA.